Seven New Zealand-based international development agencies supporting relief in the Syrian crisis are urging the New Zealand government to back all possible means for a peaceful political solution for Syria.
After two and a half years of conflict the toll on Syrians, including children and their families, has been enormous. “The apparent use of chemical weapons on 21 August highlights how dangerous and unpredictable the civil war has become,” says spokesperson Dr Wren Green, Director of the Council for International Development (CID). “The world must act to protect innocent human life. However, other nations must ensure their actions do not inflame an already volatile and dangerous situation, which may leave the people they desire to protect in greater danger.”
Dr Green is speaking on behalf of the agencies ADRA, Caritas, Christian World Service, Oxfam, Save the Children, TEAR Fund and World Vision – members of the Non-Governmental Organisations Disaster Relief Forum (NDRF) of CID who are supporting those affected by the conflict.
“United Nations mechanisms must be used to protect the Syrian people without escalating violence,” says Dr Green. “We have not yet exhausted peaceful means to bring an end to this conflict. Diplomatic efforts need to focus on bringing all stakeholders to the negotiating table and making sure that Syrians have a say in their own future.”
Following the threat of direct military action by outside powers in the wake of the 21 August attacks, many working on behalf of ordinary people in Syria have warned of the possible consequences. The President of a Syrian aid agency and head of the Chaldean Church in Aleppo (one of the worst affected cities), Bishop Antoine Audo, has said: “If there is an armed intervention that would mean, I believe, a world war. That risk has returned.”
An aid worker at the Lebanon/Syria border asked every Syrian refugee he met what they wanted to happen next. “None of them said guns. None of them said they wanted anybody armed. Each and every one of them told me the same thing: they want peace so as they can go home.”
More than 6.8 million people need help within Syria, while the 1.86 million registered refugees in neighbouring countries is indicative of the much greater number who have fled the war.
NDRF members are working with those in need within Syria as well as in affected, neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Through their international networks, many have been involved in Syria since before the civil war began in March 2011.
These agencies utterly condemn the use of chemical weapons, especially against children. There is an urgent need for unimpeded access to all parts of Syria, and much greater funding by the international community, to continue to respond to the worst humanitarian crisis for a generation.
“This war has been going on far too long with outside powers either doing nothing or supplying arms and support to one side or the other. There is an urgent need for all sides to respect international humanitarian law and allow aid to reach those caught up in the conflict,” says Dr Green.
He says there are viable alternatives to military escalation. “It is in the mutual interests of both Russia and the United States to contain this war, stop the arms flow and achieve a ceasefire. Some organisations have proposed an unarmed or minimally armed multinational peace force to establish ‘zones of non-violence’ to support Syrians committed to peace.”
“It is not arms or military might that will turn this conflict but a genuine commitment to work for peace. New Zealand and New Zealanders must support diplomatic efforts through the United Nations and not military intervention.”
For more information on the crisis, or to support the growing number of victims of this conflict, visit the NDRF website: www.ndrf.org.nz
3 September 2013